Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Attitudes on Indians

Survey finds indication of overt, subtle racism

World Staff Writer

American Indians are more likely to be regarded with prejudice than are other minorities by white TU students, a study shows.

"The findings support the idea that although overtly racist ideas toward African-Americans appear to be less prevalent in contemporary America, overt racism towards Native Americans is present," TU researchers said in the study.

Results were from a written survey of 55 white, middle-class college students in their 20s at TU who had been in college for more than a year.

The study found that American Indians were consistently regarded less favorably on social factor indicator scales than black people.

Researchers said the mix of the state's many tribes increased the likelihood of students coming into contact with an Indian person.

According to 2006 U.S. Census estimates, 43,364 self-identified American Indians live in Tulsa County. Statewide, the number is 397,041.

Findings from the study indicate that although the respondents knew that Indians are different in culture, they were viewed less positively than black people, a factor they attributed to "subtle racism."

One aspect was perceived privileges, such as free health care, researchers said.

Researcher Dennis Combs, a former TU associate psychology professor who now works at the University of Texas-Tyler, said the findings are surprising because college students are perceived as liberal regarding race issues.

"Also, Native Americans may also be subject to a newer form of racism called subtle racism, which is centered on them as being different, having poor work ethic, and unfavorable," said Combs, who conducted the study along with student Melissa Tibbits.

Indians also are more likely to be regarded with "blatant prejudice" than black people, the survey showed.

The study also found that particular attributes, such as associating Indians with a heightened sense of nature and spiritual awareness -- while not negative -- paint a picture based on assumptions rather than reality.

Officials with the Tulsa Indian Coalition on Racism, who viewed the study's results, said that when generalities about Indians abound, negative viewpoints are nurtured and sustained.

"People think we have privilege and all get gaming checks. . . . That's not true," TICAR President Louis Gray said.

"People don't think of us as human; we're just symbols, but we have hopes and dreams like everyone else," he said.

Gray said education is key in getting a more realistic image of Indians across to the general public.

Nancy Day, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference for Community and Justice, said, "The roots of contemporary discrimination and racism directed against native peoples can be traced to the early periods of our country's history, and the manifestations of this discrimination are myriad."

Combs said, "In my opinion, the question that needs to be answered is where do these overtly racist attitudes come from, and one possible source is the negative stereotyping that Native Americans experience on a daily basis."

Preliminary findings from the same report were presented two years ago to TICAR.

Gray said he was surprised that the viewpoints had changed little among college students.

"Frankly," he said, "I was hoping that people would be more informed of what we face every day."

Contact S.E. Ruckman at
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